I was still afflicted by the “sign up for everything” hysteria of frosh week when I impulsively added myself to the roster of Mathey College intramural flag football late one night in September. Did I know how to play flag football? No. Did I have any friends signing up with me? No. Am I even athletic? Not particularly. Like many irrational frosh week decisions, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Once my first game was only a few hours away, I was not quite as excited about the idea of flag football. All day I gave myself reasons not to go: The field was too far; I had a lot to do; the team did not really need my football skills anyway. Only when a friend told me to “do it for Mathey” did my sense of Mathey loyalty kick in and buoy me all the way to the 1952 Stadium fields.
I was the only member of the Mathey team to show up. I regretted having let my maddening Mathey loyalty bully me into showing up for the game, and I was disappointed I would have to make the long walk back to Mathey never having touched flag nor football. But my low spirits were quickly picked back up by a group I did not even expect to find on the IM field: grad students.
My team had been scheduled to play a large co-ed grad student team that was as disappointed as I was that they were not able to play that night. They were so eager to play, the grad students decided to split their team into two smaller teams to play a scrimmage and invited me, their would-be opponent, to join. For over an hour, we played competitive and exciting flag football. The grad students were suprisingly fun, social and, for the most part, pretty athletic. After a while I had to leave the game to get back to work, but the grad students did not seem ready to stop any time soon. I left them on the field that night with a lasting new impression of Princeton’s grad students as much more than just our older, more studious counterparts.
It turns out my on-field interaction with grad students was nothing exceptional. According to an estimate by one intramural sports coordinator, 20 to 30 percent of IM teams are comprised of grad students, depending on the sport. Football, soccer and badminton are especially popular.
Grad students, like undergrads, are drawn to IMs as a way to have fun, release stress and make friends. Or, for some, it’s simply a way to pass the time. “We don’t have anything else to do,” said Dan Wright, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate and a member of the Graduate College three-on-three basketball team.
Intramurals are one of a limited number of activities on campus in which grad students are allowed to participate. Other opportunities for grad students to get involved in campus sports are especially limited at the club and varsity level.
“This is a part of campus life that is not segregated like others such as student government, housing or dining; [in IMs] everyone plays in the same sports at the same level,” said Santiago Martinez ’13, an undergraduate IM sports coordinator.
IMs are a significant part of life at Princeton for grad students, given their busy schedules and limited opportunities to participate in undergraduate campus life. After supervising the games of and playing against many grad students, Martinez has observed that intramurals seem to play a different role for grad students than for undergrads. “For grad students, IMs serve as a primary social activity, whereas for undergrads it is a complementary activity to eating clubs, residential colleges and various student groups,” Martinez said.
Alyse Egner, Graduate College House Committee Athletic Officer, agrees. “IMs are an important outlet for hundreds of graduate students ... As more and more graduate students become involved in IM sports, they will form friendships that will go far beyond the field or court and far beyond Princeton as well.”
Perhaps because IMs are one of the few competitive activities open to grad students, they sometimes take them more seriously than do their undergraduate opponents.
“They rarely forfeit and usually have an organized core group of players that know each other very well,” Martinez said. “They read the rules and intervene when they know [the rules] are not being followed. They put in a lot of effort and definitely get frustrated when they lose, as opposed to undergrads who often just want to play some friendly games.”
Different levels of intensity aside, the on-field interaction between grad students and undergrads contributes to creating a positive relationship between the two communities. There may be an entire golf course separating us undergrads from the Graduate College, but IMs reduce that distance to a mere patch of grass.
“The success of grad students in IM sports changes the undergraduate perception that we let go of our lives to study constantly. While it’s true that we work extremely hard, the graduate student body is still fun-loving, friendly and, yes, athletic,” Egner said.
“Athletic” may have never been an adjective that popped into your head to describe your preceptor or, for that matter, the Princeton graduate community in general. Yet, grad students are currently ranked third out of the 19 colleges and eating clubs that participate in IMs. “Fun-loving” and “friendly” were never the adjectives I would’ve used to describe grad students either, but my experience playing IM flag football with them showed me that grad students can defy the adjectival odds. All it takes is playing against a grad team on the IM field to realize that they’re more than just our boring preceptors or the slightly sketchy people walking past us on campus.